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4/23/2007 05:01:00 PM

Review: Guitar Hero II (XBOX 360)

Guitar Hero II
Guitar Hero II: Activision
... Behind my beloved waterfall, in the little room that was
Hidden beneath the cave, I found it. I brushed away the
Dust of the years, and picked it up, holding it reverently in
My hands. I had no idea what it might be, but it was
Beautiful ...
... I learned to lay my fingers across the wires, and to turn
The keys to make them sound differently. As I struck the
Wires with my other hand, I produced my first harmonious
Sounds, and soon my own music! How different it could
Be from the music of the temples! I can't wait to tell the
Priests about it! ...

-- 2112, Rush

By Jacob Luft

The electric guitar has been a symbol for the freedom of expression ever since the days of the counterculture. That's why it is so fitting that the Guitar Hero franchise has come to liberate rock-loving gamers from the doldrums of the modern-day gaming scene.

Ultimately, how many more free-roaming, kill-em-all Grand Theft Auto knockoffs and sports sequels can you digest without getting bored? To make matters worse, every next generaton system that comes out features a new controller that has even more buttons, triggers and doo-dads than you know what to do with.

Enter Guitar Hero II, which just came out on the XBOX 360 after a successful debut on the Playstation 2 last November. Instead of the tedious button, joystick and trigger mashing, you get to use a miniature replica of a guitar as the game controller -- hence the hefty $89.99 price tag -- while rocking out to some of your all-time favorite jams. And that's the key -- the songs. Without a suitable array of face-melting rock anthems, this game wouldn't work. Well, don't worry, because GHII is nothing if not comprehensive in satisfying your desire to rock out. Before I get into the details of the game, here's the setlist for the latest version on the 360:

Guitar Hero II
Guitar Hero II: Activision
1. Opening Licks
Surrender -- Cheap Trick
Possum Kingdom -- Toadies
Heart-Shaped Box -- Nirvana
Salvation -- Rancid
Strutter -- Kiss
Shout at the Devil -- Mötley Crüe (Encore)

2. Amp-Warmers
Mother -- Danzig
Life Wasted -- Pearl Jam
Cherry Pie -- Warrant
Woman -- Wolfmother
You Really Got Me -- Van Halen
Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight -- Spınal Tap

3. String-Snappers
Carry On Wayward Son -- Kansas
Search and Destroy -- Iggy Pop and The Stooges
Message in a Bottle -- The Police
Them Bones -- Alice in Chains
Billion Dollar Babies -- Alice Cooper
War Pigs -- Black Sabbath

4. Thrash and Burn
Monkey Wrench -- Foo Fighters
Hush -- Deep Purple
Girlfriend -- Matthew Sweet
Who Was in My Room Last Night? -- Butthole Surfers
Can't You Hear Me Knocking -- The Rolling Stones
Sweet Child O'Mine -- Guns N' Roses

5. Return of the Shred
Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo -- Rick Derringer
Tattooed Love Boys -- The Pretenders
John the Fisherman -- Primus
Jessica -- The Allman Brothers Band
Bad Reputation -- Thin Lizzy
Last Child -- Aerosmith

6. Relentless Riffs
Crazy on You -- Heart
Trippin' On a Hole in a Paper Heart -- Stone Temple Pilots
Dead! -- My Chemical Romance
Killing in the Name -- Rage Against the Machine
Freya -- The Sword
Stop! -- Jane's Addiction (Encore)

7. Furious Fretwork
Madhouse -- Anthrax
The Trooper -- Iron Maiden
Rock This Town -- Stray Cats
Laid to Rest -- Lamb of God
Psychobilly Freakout -- The Reverend Horton Heat
YYZ -- Rush

8. Face-Melters
Beast and the Harlot -- Avenged Sevenfold
Carry Me Home -- The Living End
Institutionalized -- Suicidal Tendencies
Misirlou -- Dick Dale
Hangar 18 -- Megadeth
Free Bird -- Lynyrd Skynyrd

There are some bonus tracks as well that you'll need to unlock that are better left as a surprise. Also, you can purchase additional tracks off the XBOX Live network for download, such as Bark at the Moon, Killer Queen and Higher Ground, which were all on the original PS2 version of the game.

I've had the game for about a week and made my way through the Easy and Medium modes and a few tracks of Hard mode. The highlights for me so far are War Pigs, Jessica, Sweet Child O'Mine, YYZ and Free Bird, but nearly every song has been enjoyable to play in at least some way.

Even tunes that you may have classified as too soft to rock out with can be surprisingly hot, such as Kansas' Carry On My Wayward Son and The Police's Message In A Bottle. You can adjust the audio settings to make the guitars overpower the rest of the band, so take that Sting!.

If you want to get a feel for the game play, here's a good instructional video off of YouTube:

Don't worry so much if you have never picked up a real guitar. Playing experience does help, but only to a small degree. When you get to the more advanced levels, the notes come at you as fast as if you were really playing the song, so finger dexterity can come in handy. Knowing how to strum classical style -- with your index and middle fingers -- also helps, though I prefer the thumb-slapping bass style myself. (No word yet on how Detroit Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya prefers to rock out.) But the most important skill to have is a sense of timing -- if you've spent any time with a metronome, whether it be with a guitar, piano, flute, etc, then you'll have a batter chance of keeping time with the songs. Your foot-tapping is just as important as your finger-tapping.

Even if you can't tell a clef note from a coda, you can overcome a lack of real music experience by simply knowing these songs backwards and forwards, like most hard rock fans do anyways. How many times have you air guitared your way through YYZ or Sweet Child O'Mine? That will come in handy.

Conversely, if you get to the point where you are getting five out of five stars on expert mode, you might want to consider giving up the pixelated pyrotechnics in favor of the real thing. The guitar is a tough instrument to learn, but if you are willing to put the work in to master this video game, then you can rock for real easily enough. (Download the tablature to Nevermind and you'll have the whole album down in less time than you can say, "I feel stupid and contagious.")

Far from discouraging kids to take up an instrument, I believe this game will help uncover the next generation of true-to-life guitar heros. Just take a look at this kid. He's the next Yngwie Malmsteen.

This guy, though, he's got problems.

And so does he ...

As you can tell by the videos, this game is a blast. It's not without its faults, however. The Career Mode that comprises the bulk of the game doesn't offer much in terms of depth. You tour around from city to city raking in cash, but when you go to spend it in "The Store," there just isn't much interesting to buy. It's not like in Dead Or Alive: Extreme Volleyball where you can spend hours figuring out just the right thong to buy. There are various indie tracks to purchase as well as some different guitars, but why can't I buy some new picks? Or how about a jacuzzi for the tour bus? Bat Mobile?

After you have unlocked all the tracks, you're better off spending time in the practice mode, where you can select any section of a song and practice it on a loop until you nail it down -- you'll be doing this with the guitar solo in Free Bird.

Once you've perfected your craft and uploaded a bunch of YouTube videos making yourself look silly, you'll start looking forward to the next installment of this epic title. Here's my early top 10 list for new songs to include on Guitar Hero III:

  • Trampled Under Foot (Led Zeppelin)
  • Master of Puppets (Metallica)
  • Cult of Personality (Living Colour)
  • Symphony of Destruction (Megadeth)
  • Wanted Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi)
  • Every Rose Has Its Thorns (Poison)
  • Spirit of Radio (Rush)
  • Eruption (Van Halen)
  • Regret (New Order)
  • Little Red Corvette (Prince)

    Ratings System (1 to 10)
    Game Play: 10
    Though the Hard and Expert levels will take time to master, the learning curve on the Easy and Medium difficulty settings isn't so tough. Once you get the hang of it, you'll want to hit every note perfectly just to keep the jam going.
    Graphics: 5
    This game isn't about looks, which is good 'cause the graphics are more Playstation 2 than XBOX 360.
    Replayability: 9.5
    In addition to the downloadable tracks off the Live network, you can buy a second guitar and play co-op with a friend. (Unfortunately, you can't play co-op online, otherwise this would be a "10" also.) In fact, if you plan to have people over for a party, you'll want to have that second guitar handy or risk having a fist fight break out in your living room. In co-op, you can choose to play the rythm, lead or bass lines of the songs. (You can also do this in solo mode when practicing.) Plus, there are 50 achievements to strive for.
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